Archive for ‘Playoffs’

May 2, 2014

Habs-Bruins Game 1, Round 2: A Man Possessed

by Jacob Saltiel

call-of-duty-ghosts

 

At times like these, one wonders how a Bruins fan processes a game like last night’s. Watching your team control the game for two straight periods into overtime, getting open looks on the other team’s goalie, outhitting the opposition, and all but shutting down every Canadien except PK Subban and the unguardable Rene Bourque, can you even feel bad about your team’s play? Of course not. There is one thing to be very nervous about though, and that’s Carey Price’s glorious display.

The playoffs are a tricky thing for statisticians. Jonah Keri, of Grantland.com, makes the point that once the playoffs begin in MLB, he throws away his stats, since postseason series’ are comparatively short compared to the regular season, and just a few abnormal performances in either direction by key players can skew a mediocre team to victory and a good team to defeat. So it is with NHL goaltending in particular. Many a hockey fan will dread the familiar disaster that is an opponent’s goaltender finding a groove where nothing short of a bulldozer can push the puck past him.

Distressingly for Bruins fans, Price seems to have made a deal with the devil signed in blood, making a series of preposterous stops last night. Statheads will talk about elevated PDOs and unsustainable Fenwicks, indicating that the Canadiens are definitely screwed, and they might be right. For Bruins fans, they’d better hope that those numbers regress to the mean before the end of the series. For Habs fans, they’d better hope more players than Price, Subban, Bourque, Eller, and Plekanec show up in Games 2-7.

What’s Next?

The Bruins will probably come back in game 2 with a similar gameplan. If they play the same way in game 2 as they did in game 1, they could conceivably win by several goals with the only difference being pucks bouncing differently. The Bruins, recognizing that playoff nightmare that is a goaltender possessed by the daemon Mammon, will probably adjust their gameplan slightly to start running Price’s crease, camping in his line of sight, and crossing themselves before every shift. Bob McKenzie on TSN points out how all three Bruins goals occurred when Price couldn’t see the puck. The Bruins can’t do too much about Price playing the pucks he can see, but they can try and knock him out of his comfort zone and pray he doesn’t gain the ability to swivel his head 360 degrees around his neck.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had better be ready to defend their goaltender. While Francis Bouillon scored a goal, Therrien might consider dropping him for Jarred Tinordi (Legend). I can hear you reading this and protesting some combination of:

1) Bouillon scored!

2) He’s experienced and tries hard!

3) Don’t tinker with a winning lineup!

But 1) Bouillon probably won’t score in any hockey league for another 6 months. 2) He’s also 5″8 , old, and these are professional athletes- they all try hard or they wouldn’t be here. 3) The Canadiens might have won that game on the scoreboard, but if you think this lineup doesn’t need some tinkering with, you’re still drunk from last night.

As the Bruins start hitting more, the Canadiens will need to respond, and playing Weaver and Bouillon at the same time- no matter how tough those two are or how great a story Bouillon- leaves the Canadiens at a serious size mismatch against forwards like Carl Soderberg, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Jarome Iginla, etc… etc…

Therrien also really needs to do something about his best line being Eller, Bourque, and whoever skated with them since it’s unclear if any other Habs forwards touched the puck last night. Leaving aside the question of how Bourque can be objectively mediocre for 166 games over the last 3 seasons and then become the Prairies’ answer to Alexander Ovechkin, the Canadiens can’t win too many games without better performances from other forwards.

Travis Moen returned to the lineup, replacing the more-deserving Bournival. The arguments for including Moen are similar to the arguments for including Bouillon, but Bournival is good with the puck, a heck of a lot faster, and a better passer than TraMoen. As much as toughness will be an issue for the Canadiens in their crease, they need to take back the possession game, and Bournival can help do that.

That’s a relatively minor issue compared to the struggles of the top two lines. Desharnais seems like the only member of the topline who either gets the puck or harasses the Bruins D. Despite facing harder competition, Vanek and Pacioretty need to show something, even if it’s just physical play, to distract the Bruins from hoarding the puck.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting stat on RDS showing Krejci’s 1st round points, 23, and how only 1 goal from that number came against the Canadiens, since Plekanec has consistently shut him down. If Krejci didn’t score last night, it has less to do with being shutdown by forwards than by bad puck luck and Price’s play. If Plekanec and Gallagher aren’t going to score, they’d better get that puck and make life hard for the Bruins forwards tomorrow afternoon.

Ghosts

The media will now shift from discussing hatred and depth to ghosts and history. Despite Price being very much a creature of flesh and blood and some substance, the story will become about haunted goalposts and goaltenders of playoffs past stifling the Bruins. While the media hires exorcists to serve as panelists on their in-game talkshows, the Bruins will bring the hate back by beating the Canadiens down if they can’t put the puck in the net. As discussed above, Therrien’s got some adjustments to make for the real live players on his roster, since trusting in ghosts isn’t exactly a 21st century coaching strategy. It’s cute to imagine a team meeting around the campfire with each player passing a flashlight around and taking turns telling stories of their favourite playoff caper against the Bruins. But that won’t cut it, especially given the rumours that Subban, for all his sound and fury, gets the heebie-jeebies from ghosts.

Look, while it’s fun watching TD Garden fans pull out their hair as the Bruins throw holy water on Price in an attempt to rid him of the demons possessing him- CHECK THOSE WATER BOTTLES, REFS!- you have to hope that the Canadiens will start passing around the locker room whatever dietary supplement Bourque’s been snacking on.

BAD ADVERTIZING UPDATE: 

If Apple plays that iPhone 5 ad with the god-awful cover of the Pixies’ Gigantic one more time, I’m going to start vomiting uncontrollably and speaking in deviltongues. MERCY, PLEASE!

May 1, 2014

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Canadiens v. Bruins, Playoffs Round 2

by Jacob Saltiel

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game Four

Flambeau Field Returns!

If you want to read the stats and history behind the upcoming series, I recommend you click here, here, here, or here.

Why should you read this piece, then? To identify your media narratives before the puck drops- that’s why!

There’s a couple of dominant themes developing before puckdrop:

1) Depth. The pundits would have you believe that, like Wu-Tang Rapper Raekwon, this series “got deep like a N.A.V.Y. Seal”.

2) Hatred. These teams don’t like each other. How the media ever dredged up some controversy between these teams is a mystery.

Away we go then.

Too Greedily, Too Deep

The story goes that the Canadiens beat the Lightning because they had more depth, as in, they had more NHL-quality players. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made the unlikely decision to drop half of his blueline between game 1 and 2, partially because of injury and partially because he wanted to play as many 6″6 stiffs as possible. Meanwhile, the Tampa 4th line included Cedric Paquette, who has played all of 2 and a half weeks in his NHL career and was in the QMJHL last month, and an assorted young players including Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, and J.T. Brown. In goal, the Lightning were forced to start a backup who’s save percentage was 30 points lower than the starter.

As for the Habs squaring off against this plucky group of Bolts, several habitual underachievers stepped up. Rene Bourque played out of his mind for 4 straight games. Bourque played hockey with Alex Ovechkin’s stats. Lars Eller, who has tantalized on previous occasions but mostly struggled in the regular season, is currently tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with 5, when he only scored 26 all year. For reference, that’s nearly 20% of his production over 77 regular season games into 4 playoff games. Dale Weise also emerged as a serviceable 4th liner. Post-deadline trade, he’d been more “Dale Weise he on our team?” than OT hero, but no matter. Also, Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon played bottom-pair defence minutes, and didn’t completely kill the Canadiens. If they had, it wouldn’t have been Weaver’s fault as much as Bouillon’s, though.

This deep Canadiens team will now face off against the Bruins, a team that has, since 2011, won the Stanley Cup and returned to the finals behind- get this- a deep roster. Unlike the Lightning who were running with several youngsters, the Bruins have experienced NHLers at almost every position. If not for injuries to Chris Kelly, Dennis Seidenberg, and Adam McQuaid, there’d be very few rookies or sophomores on this team. Justin Florek, who nobody’s heard of, plays wing on a 3rd line centred by the 6″3 Carl Soderberg who scored 48 points, which would have ranked 5 on the Habs. On defence, the Bruins are rotating Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, and Corey Potter on their bottom pair, which doesn’t hurt them so much since Chara will play half the game anyway.

So, for fans expecting the Habs depth players to run rampant on the Bruins the way it did against the Lightning, it’s highly unlikely. Vanek, Pacioretty, and Desharnais need to be more effective than they were in the 1st round, but against defensive beasts Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Against the Bruins, the Canadiens will test the commentators depth theory.

It’s not that the Canadiens have no chance, but like the last regular season meeting between these teams, the games will be tight, and goals will be as hard to come by for 1st liners as for 4th liners.

 

Hatred

Did you know that these teams don’t like each other? Well, they do. This time, they extra-double hate each other because they’re meeting in the 2nd, rather than the 1st round. Actually, these teams could meet at a Chuck-E-Cheese for a child’s birthday party and Brad Marchand might still knee cross someone in the ballpit as Lucic hacks them with a pool noodle in a different type of ballpit.

If you’re a Habs fan, it’s pretty obvious why the Habs might hate the Bruins. Barely a year goes by without some Bruins player trying to murder a Canadien in a hockey game. If that doesn’t get you pissed off, the Bruins’ inexplicable inferiority complex, where they complain that the refs are out to get them, that every team but them dives, and that every hit thrown by any opponent deserves retribution and then condemnation in the media, certainly should. I mean, between Chara, Marchand, Lucic, and the unjustifiably appreciated Shawn Thornton- who was benched for most of last year’s playoffs- the Bruins have divers and cheapshotters aplenty to choose from.

Now, the Canadiens aren’t completely innocent either. Subban is generally hated around the league because he’s insanely good, talks trash, isn’t afraid to embellish a bit, and throws the occasional massive open-ice hit. Emelin has also created his own peculiar irritating brand. Emelin’s disliked because he hits at every opportunity and he hits his opponents extremely hard. Never mind that almost all of those hits are clean and within the rules. And especially pay no attention to the fact that he cannot fight owing to a metal plate in his face. Chara, in particular, has attacked Emelin more than once for playing the damned game. That’s the NHL in 2014, though, throw a clean hit and prepare to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

Aside from those two obvious offenders, the Canadiens are a relatively innocuous bunch. Daniel Briere bothers his opponents by hacking them behind the play and diving occasionally, while Tomas Plekanec’s defence seems to harass opponents into ill-fated trashtalking. Brandon Prust plays a tough game, but he doesn’t seem big enough to hurt anyone.

Really, this hatred thing boils down to the fact that the Canadiens have beaten the Bruins in unlikely circumstances the past couple of seasons, from wicked comebacks to games they clearly should have lost but didn’t while the Bruins resort to whining and smashing people when they can’t beat them within the rules.

Look, the reporters can report on these teams hating each other- somebody ring Pulitzer!- or they can do some real on the ground reportage to find out just how much fans will hate TSN’s commercials by the end of the playoffs. Penelope Cruz selling Nespresso with like six extra e’s? That Scottish guy selling Scott’s lawn turf? Please god just stop.

Let’s just see the puck drop so we can let the players tell the story.

 

April 8, 2013

Prognosticating the Playoff Race

by Jacob Saltiel

That fraud Jacob Saltiel is at it again, posting pseudonymously at allhabs.net on the topic of playoff seeding.

Follow the link to, hopefully, enjoy: http://www.allhabs.net/feature/playoff-picture-becoming-clearer-habs-control-fate/

March 8, 2013

Halfway Through the Schedule in 1st? Habs’ll take it.

by Jacob Saltiel
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens

Hey Eastern Conference, Tell Me How My *ss Tastes
from habseyesontheprize.com

Pre-season Expectations:

– at least some improvement from their last place finish.

– more grit with the arrival of Prust, Armstrong, and Bouillon.

– explosive outbursts of rage, fury, and caustic understatement from the returning Michel Therrien.

– more juggling of the forward lines.

Since the pre-season, a quick survey of Bergevin’s GM moves includes:

– helping Gomez escape from his contract the way Joshua Jackson helped the whale over the wall (with as much pathos, hope, and relief for Habs fans as for viewers of that movie).

– making the aggressive move to include 2 rookies, Gallagher and the 18-year old Galchenyuk on the roster.

– winning a game of contract chicken with Pernell and his agent, keeping Subban signed for 2 years at a bargain.

– trading away the popular but struggling Cole for Michael Ryder and his expiring contract, somehow obtaining a 3rd draft pick from Dallas in the process.

Today, the Habs:

 are first overall in the eastern conference.

– have a top 3 offence in terms of goals scored

– have a top 3 +/- differential

– have the league leading defenceman in goals scored with 6, in PK Subban (whose done it in fewer games and fewer minutes played per game (21:10)  than his closest competition (Brian Campbell, 25:51/game and the recently injured Karlsson 27:03/game).

– are 9th in the league with 30 shots/game

– tied for 6th in the league with 27.2 shots allowed/ game.

– are grittier are and tougher to play against, led by the brilliant signing of Prust* and the rest of the grinders.

MARKET CORRECTION?

With the Bruins holding 3 games in hand on the division leading Canadiens, it’s unrealistic to expect the Habs to hang onto to that fancy rank in the standings.

Additionally, there are some troubling signs defensively for the Canadiens. Last year, they struggled because they couldn’t score goals, even if they had a relatively strong defence. This year, Price has looked occasionally shaky- especially recently when he gave up 11 goals** to the Penguins and Islanders- and the Montreal penalty kill is middle of the pack, ranked 14th in efficiency and 17th in terms of actual goals allowed.

Meanwhile, Bourque and Diaz are injured with concussions. Bourque’s solid play this year finally provided Plekanec with a reliable linemate who went to the net and opened up space. His absence means more line juggling by Therrien to try and balance the scoring behind the reliable Pacioretty-Desharnais tandem. Diaz  provided excellent service for Markov on the powerplay and didn’t seem to kill the team defensively on the 3rd pairing with Bouillon. His absence means the return of Kaberle- to Kaberle’s credit he hasn’t been a distraction given his subordinate status on the team- and now the call-up of Greg Pateryn with the injury to Weber.

Markov plays 24:31 a night, which is too much. At his age with his injury history, the possibility that he either wears down or gets injured is probable.

Keeping it Close

Those are the major concerns for the Habs. Of their 5 regulation losses this year, 2 have come against the much-improved Leafs, one of which was the opening night televised scrimmage. The other 3 were to Boston, Ottawa, and New York. Of those losses, three were 1-goal games, and the other two were regrettable blowouts. What this means is that the Canadiens keep games close, and take care of business against inferior competition. Sure, there’s been a troubling habit of blowing 3rd period leads, but this may be due to the schedule or the demands of Therrien’s tight-checking system.

In many ways, this season is similar to the Habs’ 1st overall finish in the East in 2007-2008. That year, traditional powers such as Philadelphia and Ottawa underachieved, while the conference in general was up for grabs with no dominant team. The Canadiens, solidly in the lottery the year before, improved significantly and perched atop the standings pyramid that spring. This year, the Bruins might be the best team in the conference, but other than that, there are no other elite teams. Pittsburgh’s amusingly shaky goaltending, surprisingly lacklustre Philly and New York teams, and the shockingly mediocre Southeast Division mean that the conference is up for grabs.

While the Canadiens may not finish in 1st, if they keep playing this way and keep playing Boston hard enough to make Julein cry in public, they may have one of the higher seeds in the conference at season’s end.

***

*Haters decried that Bergevin overpaid for Prust. In a very rigid sense he did, in that $2.5m/year for a grinder seems like a misprint. What people who make this argument miss, however, is that the Canadiens haven’t had anyone on their roster like Prust in… a while.

There have been energetic 3rd and 4th liners (Kostopolous, Begin), there’ve been big ones, (Moen), and scrappy ones (White), but no one with Prust’s defensive acumen, motor, and apparent fearlessness. For a team that had maybe two players who could throw their weight around last year (Moen and Emelin, White was mostly injured), the combination of Prust with Armstrong and White’s return to health gives Therrien options on the 3rd and 4th line that Martin and Carbonneau never had.

So, yes, Prust gets paid a lot for a grinder, but not much in comparison to the actual salary cap. At this point, his contract only looks bad in that one worries for Prust’s health over the next four years. Even if he doesn’t keep producing offence (an unreasonable expectation as people saw last year with Moen’s tale of two seasons), Prust makes the team better.

Replace him with Dumont or Leblanc or Blunden and the team is poorer.

**1 of the 12 scored against was an empty netter.

 

January 27, 2013

Northeast Division Roundup, January 19-26

by Jacob Saltiel
1297368882343_ORIGINAL

Orr Checks Scoreboard, Still Plenty of Time to Dummy Scott
from TorontoSun.com

Based on the data accumulated over the first whole week of NHL hockey this year, all kinds of persuasive data can be extrapolated about the teams in the Northeast division. Actually, that’s completely silly to suggest, so please regard this analysis as a series of general impressions and observations. Read below:

Boston Bruins

After 7 days of NHL hockey, the Bruins have yet to hurt anyone in a way that cynically manipulates the NHL rulebook. Amazing what a team can do when they don’t focus simply on bashing. They started their abbreviated season on fire, taking 3 out of 4 possible points from a strong Rangers team and smothering the Jets and Islanders. It’s early, and 2 of the teams they beat are likely bottom-feeding this year, but they’re a team with a defined identity, a relatively young core, and no obvious weak points. It’s only been a week, but one thing that can point to future troubles ahead is the 4 goals the Rangers put on Rask. They’ll need him to steal a few goals against elite teams if the Bruins are to advance in the playoffs. Even with that potential flag, Dougie Hamilton looks like he can play, which is bad news for the rest of the East.

Buffalo Sabres

Hard to gauge this team, with a narrow win over the Leafs, a victory over the Flyers fueled by Vanek running hog wild, and trading losses with the enigmatic Hurricanes. Their addition of grit over the offseason has been mixed so far. Ott’s been strong and Stafford notably and foolishly fought Hartnell, but John Scott got punked by Orr. John Scott is a dancing bear dressed up in hockey gear whose only purpose is to smash. If he can’t perform his duty against the heavies of the league, he’s a waste of a roster spot. And, besides, it’s not like he can protect wee Gerbe from the referees, can he?

Montreal Canadiens

Subban remains lost in the desert of his indecision, causing angst for everyone in the Montreal area, but Markov’s return has brought up memories of the Canadiens’ vaunted power play of a couple of years ago. There’s a lot of smoke coming out of the Montreal blogosphere about Subban being an elite two-way defenceman, and while he may yet become that, one only has to watch the Canadiens powerplay with Markov at the wheel to see the difference between someone who can and someone who cannot run a powerplay. So long as Therrien’s running Bouillon and Kaberle out there, the Canadiens can still use Subban’s top-notch defensive presence. The shortcomings of Frankie Boo and Kaberle will reveal themselves over time- even in a shortened season. Even so, a disjointed throwaway loss in Toronto and two ‘taking care of business’ wins against ragged Florida and possibly sadsack Washington, and the Habs look good for a team that finished bottom of the conference last year. Tonight, they’ll be taking on the Devils without Pacioretty, who unexpectedly came down with appendicitis and will be out for a month.

Ottawa Senators
The young Senators can score goals, but as the Tampa Bay Lightning showed, they can also end up on the wrong side of some crooked numbers on the scoreboard. While some have pointed to their goaltending as deep, Anderson is as prone to brilliance as he is to mediocrity from one night to the next. Though Bishop is touted as a strong goalie prospect, displays like the one against Tampa reveal that he still has some adjusting to do. Maybe Robin Lehner in the AHL is the longterm answer, but they’ll find out once they unload Anderson or Bishop. They’ll be exciting to watch, and if Turris turns into a point-a-game centre (4 goals and an assist through 4 games as of now), they’ll be regularly chasing other teams’ starting goalies onto the bench.

Toronto Maple Leafs
What the heck is going with this team, right? Screwing with their goalie rotation by playing the crab-like Scrivens over Reimer, starting seemingly half of their farm team and Nazem Flarning Kadri lighting it up, it’s hard to tell which way this team is going. Sources also say that Hercule Poirot is investigating the identity of one ‘Michael Kostka‘. Anyroad, this is a Leafs squad that blows into Pittsburgh and stomps out the Penguins and then gets set ablaze like so many backyard leaf fires in the fall by John Taveres and the Strong Island. Phaneuf’s attempt to combine Tavares’ face with the endboards was an interesting attempt at alchemy, but should have been rewarded with a suspension. Last night, against an elite team likely to finish in the top-half of the East’s playoff ranks, the Leafs crumbled in the 2nd half, losing 5-2 to the Rangers. While they have some young guys who can score, it looks like their team defence couldn’t keep a minifridge out of their net.

January 17, 2013

Beasts of The Northeastern Wild: Analyzing the NHL Northeast Division 2013

by Jacob Saltiel
Map-3

Dragons Be Here
from TheHockeyGuys.net

Last year, the Bruins feasted on a dilapidated Northeast division, while the Senator overachieved, made the playoffs and pushed a tough Rangers team to 7 games.

The Habs, Sabres, and Leafs?

The former two did their fans the favour of playing mediocre hockey all year, while the latter had a strong first half, then decided to stop trying to win at all, plummeting into the draft.

What can we expect from the division this year?

It’s hard to predict how the 48 game schedule will affect things. As Sean McIndoe writes on Grantland.com:

“About the only thing we do know is that a shorter season means more variance — the smaller sample size leaves more room for random chance to take over. In theory, that helps bad teams, since anything that works against true talent levels is good for teams who don’t have much. But those teams are already at a disadvantage because, well, they’re bad, and they should get blown out by good teams who won’t be tempted to take their foot off the accelerator this year.”

And that’s about as clear and concise an explanation of how the shortened season can screw with predictions. Consider also how lockout injuries* may affect some teams more strongly for others, and it’ll be a chaotic season.

In the Eastern Conference, the Northeast may fall below the terrifying Atlantic Division (three cup contenders in PHI, PIT, NYR), and the potentially solid Southeast (WSH Capitals, much-improved CAR and TB) in terms of quality teams.The Montreal Canadiens will be discussed separately. This post is about their closest competition.

So, based purely on the offseason’s moves- and there may still be some trades before the season begins- here are some thoughts on the Northeastern division:

The Boston Bruins

GM Peter Chiarelli smartly locked up his core to reasonable long-term extensions, and now all that remains to be seen is if the job security afforded his players results in harmonious continuity or not. The Bruins have dominated for the past few years, and that should continue this season barring injuries and a couple of small question marks.

Will Nathan Horton be healthy this season? His absence last year robbed Coach Julien of the possibility of overwhelming opponents with an oversized top-line including Lucic and Krejci.

Next, leave aside whether or not Rask can replace Thomas, in the event of injury; the Bruins team defence is more than capable of covering up a slight decrease in goaltending. Rask might not even be a downgrade from Thomas. If he gets injured, though, who replaces Rask?

The Bruins backups right now are Anton Khudobin and Michael Hutchison. Pray for rain!

The Buffalo Sabres

Steve Ott will be an upgrade over Derek Roy based simply on the fact that he provides something that the Sabres’ young forwards and prospects don’t: grit. Roy is easily replaced by Hodgson on the top line, who can conceivably produce as much offence as Roy did last year. Meanwhile, Ott is an effective 3rd line grinder who enrages his opponents. If you’re a fan of any other team in the Northeast this year, prepare to grind your teeth aplenty when your team plays the Sabres.

For the second-line centre, they’ll have to hope that Luke Adam or Leino can step in and score some points. If the Sabres are going to improve, it will have to come either from young players (Myers, Ennis, Hodgson, or Foligno) or from last year’s free agents who had rocky starts to their Sabres careers (Ehrhoff and Leino).

The rest of the lineup is composed of veterans such as Miller, Pominville, Vanek, Stafford, or Regehr who are, at this point in their careers, more or less known commodities.

Leino was overestimated as a free agent following a season in Philly where he demonstrated that he could be a good scorer on a strong line. It became clear in Buffalo, however, that he cannot create offence on his own.

Ehrhoff, on the other hand, may not reach the point totals he had in Vancouver, benefiting as he did from one of the league’s best offences, but he can still be productive in Buffalo, and should be fine.

If the young forwards in Buffalo can take advantage of the lineup spots and ice-time vacated by the departures of Roy, Hecht, and Boyes, and score goals then this will be a good time- scary good.

If not, then, well, expect more ruminating about Regier and Ruff’s job security. I, for one, hope Ruff retains his employment, since I can’t imagine what that man would do without supervision.

The Ottawa Senators

The Senators are a tricky team to figure out, as much of their success relies on season-to-season consistency from young players like Karlsson, Greening, and the excellent-but-injured Cowen, or old veterans due to decline in effectiveness, such as Alfredsson or Gonchar. Since last year, they also unloaded two of their scrappiest players in Carkner and Konopka.

They are loaded with young players who, if they can replicate the success that young players on Ottawa last year, can take advantage of the recently opened spots to create a potent scoring offence. Guys like Silfverberg and Wiercioch, who both have strong statistical season in the AHL this season may improve the team as a whole.

Meanwhile, offseason acquisitions Latendresse and Methot are, respectively, a wildcard and a solid pickup. Latendresse has show flashes of scoring capability, but has also struggled with his conditioning and injuries for years. If he can put it all together this season, he might be the steal of the very long offseason.

Methot, meanwhile, is essentially a replacement for the jettisoned Carkner. He represents a significant upgrade over Carkner in terms of his ability to play consistent defence and defend against top-players. He’ll also help settle down a team that contains two players who tied for 7th in the NHL for giveaways (Karlsson and Spezza with 84 each).

Losing the useful Konopka hurts, but there’s still enough grit and competent defending on the team to get by.

Barring a rash of injuries or horrific regression from key young players, the Senators should be as good as they were last season, if not better.

The Toronto Maple Leafs

As covered in the Brian Burke post, this team is terrible defensively. What’d they do this offseason? Send Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for Van Riemsdyk, and add the defensively-responsible McClement. Taken together, these moves don’t do much for improving the team’s (not including the concussed and excellent Gardiner) big, heavy, and slow defence, nor the mediocre goaltending. Maybe Van Riemsdyk turns into a 30 or 40 goal scorer and Nazem Kadri and the rest of the forwards have breakthrough years and the Leafs are as exciting or more than some of those firewagon Capitals teams, but they’ll still be letting in a lot of goals.

Before 2013 even started, Lombardi and Connolly’s careers as Leafs ended within a day of one another. This opens up more spots at centre for better defensive centres in McClement and Steckel, while creating more icetime for young players, who probably can’t be less effective than Lombardi and Connolly.

McClement is a boost to Carlyle’s quest to improve the penalty kill, but unless they trade for Luongo or some other above-average goaltender, there doesn’t seem to be much to suggest that they can collectively learn to play defence all of the sudden. If the other four teams in the division play similarly to last year or improve, it could get ugly for the Leafs.

***

*Players hurt playing overseas during the lockout.